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Potential cure for COPD found in lung progenitor cell transplant study

Using lung progenitor cell transplantation in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) appears to improve symptoms and could lead to a cure, according to a study presented at the recent European Respiratory Society (ERS) International Congress 2023 in Milan, Italy.

It has been previously shown that P63+ progenitor cells, which are used by the body to repair and replace damaged tissue, are able to induce lung epithelium regeneration in animal models.

Consequently, in this first-in-human phase 1 clinical trial (abstract OA4297), researchers set out to investigate the efficacy and safety of taking autologous P63+ progenitor cells transplanted into the lungs of patients with COPD.

They demonstrated that the use of P63+ progenitor cells in those with COPD enabled patients to breathe better, walk further and have improved quality of life. This is the first time researchers have shown it‘s possible to repair damaged lung tissue in patients with COPD using their own lung cells.

The trial included 17 COPD patients with a diffusing capacity of the lungs (DLCO) of less than 80% of the predicted value and three control patients. Individuals were autologously transplanted with the P63+ progenitor cells through bronchoscopy, followed by subsequent assessment for both safety and efficacy within 24 weeks.

The cell treatment was well tolerated by all patients and following transplantation, the median DLCO of treated patients increased from a baseline value of 30.00% to 39.70% after 12 weeks and still further to 40.30% after 24 weeks.

When it came to quality of life, the average St George’s Respiratory Questionnaire score of those receiving cell therapy group decreased from 51.3% at baseline to 44.2% after treatment. The median six-minute-walk distance increased from 410m to 447m at 24 weeks.

In addition, two patients with mild emphysema showed resolution of the lesions at 24 weeks by CT imaging.

Progenitor cell transplant offers better quality of life

Professor Wei Zuo, chief scientist of the study and professor in the school of medicine at Tongji University, Shanghai, China, told the congress: ‘P63+ progenitor cells are known for their ability to regenerate the tissues of the airways, and previously we and other scientists have shown in animal experiments that they can repair the damaged epithelial tissue in the alveoli.‘

He added: ‘We found that P63+ progenitor cell transplantation, not only improved the lung
function of patients with COPD
, but also relieved their symptoms, such as shortness of breath, loss
of exercise ability and persistent coughing. This means that the patients could live a better life, and
usually with longer life expectancy.

‘If emphysema progresses, it increases the risk of death. In this trial, we found that P63+ progenitor cell transplantation could repair mild emphysema, making the lung damage disappear. However, we
cannot repair severe emphysema yet.‘

Commenting on the ‘encouraging‘ results, Professor Omar Usmani, head of the European Respiratory Society group on airway disease and professor of respiratory medicine at Imperial College London, UK, added: ‘COPD is in desperate need of new and more effective treatments, so if these results can be confirmed in subsequent clinical trials it will be very exciting. It is also very encouraging that two patients with emphysema responded so well.

‘A limitation of this study is that the uptake of the progenitor cells when they were transplanted back into the patients is uncontrolled. So we do not know whether the lungs of some patients responded better to the transplantation than other. We hope this information may become apparent in future studies.‘

The researchers are planning a phase II trial of the treatment, which will evaluate its efficacy in a
larger group of patients.

Earlier this year it was reported that hospital admissions for COPD and asthma have significantly increased over the last 21 years despite an increase in prescribed treatments.

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